The Facts about Dietary Supplements

There is a growing trend toward health and wellness in this country.  As part of this trend, many Americans are taking a more holistic approach to good health.  Dietary supplements play a big part, with a focus on disease prevention instead of the treatment of disease symptoms.  Here are a few commonly-asked questions about dietary supplements.

What are the benefits of dietary supplements?
Sometimes the daily diet is lacking, and supplements can help provide the proper amounts of daily nutrition needed for optimum health.  Dietary supplements can also boost the immune system which helps prevent disease.  They can also help to rid the body of toxins which can be stress-related, a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices or environmental (from smoke, smog or chemicals).  Finally, dietary supplements can serve as complementary, alternative medicine (CAM).  An example of this is the use of probiotics or enzymes for digestive problems.

How long should I use a supplement before I begin to see results?
Because the focus is usually on prevention, the health benefits of dietary supplements can be subtle.  Allow four to six weeks for the supplement to begin working within the body, and then stop taking it for a few days.  Depending on the reason for the supplement, most people will notice subtle physical changes.

How can I be certain a supplement is safe?
Check with a health care professional before using a supplement, especially if you are currently on medication or have health issues – certain supplements may cause adverse effects.  Also, check for alerts of dietary supplements that are currently under regulatory review through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.

Are there any other important tips about supplements?

Carefully read labels.  Product labels will tell you which ingredients are active and which are inactive.  Labels also define types of nutrients the supplement provides and the recommended dosage amount – number of tablets, capsules or spoonfuls.

Look for an expiration date.  Over time, dietary supplements can lose their potency, particularly in a climate that is hot and/or humid.  If an expiration date is not listed, don’t purchase the product.  Always discard supplements with expired dates.

Provide safe storage for supplements.  Store supplements in a cool, dry and secure location out of the reach of children.  Avoid hot and/or humid areas, such as a bathroom.

While vitamin and mineral supplements are the most popular supplement choice among American adults, a nation-wide survey conducted in 2007 found that 17.7 percent had used supplements other than vitamins and minerals over the course of twelve months.  Popular choices were fish oil supplements, glucosamine, flaxseed oil, echinacea and ginseng.

Sources:
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dietarysupplements.html
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/supplements/NU00198/NSECTIONGROUP=2
http://nccam.nih.gov/health/supplements/wiseuse.htm

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